June 6, 2010

Outta Site!

The Peace Corps is an institution notorious for seemingly trite clichés—“your service is what you make of it,” time moves incredibly fast and incredibly slow all at once, etc.—(all of which, as much as I hate to admit it, seem to hold true) and wrought with tradition.  As is the case with most traditions, those in the Peace Corps always appear to be rather frivolous and are prone to causing a great deal of griping among participants, yet they also succeed in creating a sense of unity, and prove a source of comfort—even if only from the shared act of griping about them.  Among the more notorious of the Peace Corps traditions, is Site Announcement, the ceremony in which PCT’s are formally given our assignment for the next two years.  Though each country does it differently, and there are always small variances to “keep things fresh,” tradition dictates that the Site Announcement must be painstakingly long, drawn-out, and elaborate.  Frustrating though it may be in the moment, this pomp and circumstance is not (entirely) without reason. remember reading a blog about site placement before arriving in Bots and thinking “What’s the big deal? You go where they send you…finding out takes one day…”  But let me say, it IS a big deal—up until now we have been powering through training based only on some abstract idea of what our service would be like, clinging to the still slightly romanticized ideals associated with Peace Corps service.  Site announcement is the defining moment for PCT’s, when that ideal suddenly drops out from underneath us, and we are smacked with the reality of what our actual service, our actual next two years will be like.  We are no longer just volunteering somewhere in Botswana for something having to do with HIV.  We have real sites, with real jobs and real counterparts.  Though I have not yet sworn in, I actually have something tangible to identify what I’ll be doing for the next two years of my life.  Site announcements are a sea change day—the difference between 8am and 10am that day is immeasurable.  So despite our collective excitement and anxiety, it is somewhat nice that the Peace Corps has a slightly cooler head, and forces us to savor the moment, rather than simply posting a list.

On the morning of Site Announcement, we were presented with a large map of Bots with dots for each site, with a different color of dot for each program (NGO, DAC, CCB, and Life Skills).  As we filed into the room, we all closely examined the map to evaluate the sites, and try to deduce who would wind up in which spot.  Because the program I am in—NGO Development—is unusually small (only 10 out of the 56 Bots 9-ers), and 6 of the 10 people in our program are married (meaning their dots would be right next to another dot for their spouses—the rest of us are placed in each village by ourselves, so have only one dot), I was in the unusual position of being able to narrow my prospective sites down to only five possibilities.  One was in Francistown, a large city in the northeast, highly desirable for its amenities, and it’s proximity to other volunteers (it’s one of the PCV “hubs” in Bots) but a bit “posh” for somone looking for the “Peace Corps” experience.  Another site was southeast of Francistown, which had the perk of being close enough to the city and to other volunteers, but also without being too “big-city.”  Finally, there were two spots in the Okavanga Delta region, in the Northwest—the hub of Botswana’s tourism district because of the region’s beauty, remoteness, and amazing flora and fauna.  One of the sites was slightly outside of the actual delta, but very close to Maun—one of the biggest tourist destinations, which has a great deal of amenities, access to game reserves, etc.  The other was among the farthest sites from other vol’s, right on the northern border, directly adjacent to the river that feeds the delta. 

Now, I must say, this list alone was comforting—frankly, ALL of the possible sites were quite desirable and had perks of their own.  That said, I am human, so of course, as soon as I saw that there was a possibility of being in the Delta—something so amazing, I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider it prior to that point (think, like…living in a National Park)—I immediately became preoccupied with the possibility, and became THAT much more wrought with anxiety and excitement.

After a few moments to examine the map, we were instructed to take our seats and look under them for a number which would determine the order in which we would be invited to the front of the room, individually, to receive our site information.  Once our numbers were called, we were to locate an envelope with our name on it, open it and read a quote contained inside, then pull out another number which corresponded to a number on the map, thereby revealing our sites…did I mention that site announcements are elaborate?

I reached under my chair.  My number was 10.  How awesome is that, right?!  Out of 56, I would be the 10th to find out!  Or not.  In keeping with the “surprises” they decided to give site information in reverse-order.  Reverse order out of 56, and I was 10.  To make matters worse, of the three other people vying for my potential sites (the other single NGO vol’s), one of them was number 11, and the other was number 6.  Meaning that even using the process of elimination, I would be the 10th to last person to know my site.  Now, bear in mind that as a result of the lengthy process through which our sites were identified, the entire ceremony takes nearly 2 hours.  If you have ever spent more than 5 minutes in a room with me, then you know that I am quite possibly THE least patient person that has ever set foot on this earth—literally.  So you can imagine how the next two hours went.

So.  Sitting in my chair, fidgeting relentlessly with my pink notecard labeled “10” and watching others’ emotional reactions, unable to control my own impatience, I received another hint.  Daniel, the 4th single NGO received his site placement first: Francistown.  So it was down to the two spots in the Delta, and the one southeast of Francistown.  It was an eternity before number 11 came up.   Kelly, the 3rd single NGO was elated to find out that she received the site in the Delta just southwest of Maun…and I was elated for her…but my turn was next and it was down to the site south of Francistown or the site way up north in the Delta.  Again, I can’t emphasize enough that each site has perks and disadvantages…but I really, really, really, really wanted to be in the Delta.  A lot. 

I opened my letter, and I don’t even remember what my quote pertained to, let alone the quote itself.  I hurried through it and pulled out my site number: 17.  I didn’t even look at the site in the Delta, because I couldn’t bear the possibility that I would look at it and see that it didn’t match…so I looked at the dot near Francistown…and the number didn’t match! Which means…I AM GOING TO SPEND THE NEXT TWO YEARS IN THE OKAVANGA DELTA!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

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